Lunar Research in Lanzarote


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Timanfaya National Park

The MIT Space Exploration Initiative explores Lunar analog sites on Spain’s Canary Island of Lanzarote.

During a 10-day field program in February, SEI will work in the geological and environmental conditions of Lanzarote’s volcanic landscape testing technologies for the exploration of the Moon and highlight why the island is so important for understanding Earth’s history. Lanzarote’s well-preserved volcanic structures, lava flow with varied morphologies, lava tubes, and valleys, make it an incredible educational resource and training ground for geologists and astronauts alike; the European Space Agency (ESA) trained on Lanzarote between 2017-2022. 

Lanzarote’s basaltic lava flows resemble vast plains on the Lunar Maria and volcanoes are similar to those in some regions of Mars. The Moon also had extensive volcanic activity until less than two billion years ago. By testing technology in terrains similar to the Moon, we can effectively test the ruggedness of the technology and the flexibility of the concepts of operations designed for remote environments. Taking research out into the field provides a level of complexity and challenge that is not encountered in the controlled lab-space, and rapidly matures the technology to prepare for the Lunar surface. 

Thanks to our research collaborators Castrol.

Learn more about Castrol and Space Exploration Initiative


NASA/Google Earth

Research Overview

Lunar lava tubes provide the promise of safety from radiation, micrometeoroids and thermal fluctuation as future human habitats.  Lanzarote provides us with some of the world's largest lava tubes, perfect to test and explore the technologies needed to find and understand these structures on the Moon. The expedition will include five experiments, each will contribute to the development of a 3D environment with details from the atmosphere, to the lava tubes below. Using kite-mounted sensors we can incorporate wind, sound and temperature above the ground, in-ground sensors and 3D surface imaging provide the environmental data and visualization at ground level, and data collection within subsurface lava tubes combined with ambient noise tomography to map these subsurface structures take us to new depths.  By combining these layers of data we will create a complete picture of the structures that can one day house humans on the Moon.  

While each project contributes to this exploration tool, the individual research goals are diverse.  The five projects include: 

  1. Capturing the Moon - continuing research on integrating cm-scale resolution depth-mapping into a virtual reality (VR) platform for Lunar rover exploration missions in partnership with Fleet Aerospace, layering ambient noise tomography for subsurface lava tube exploration,
  2. AstroAnt swarm robotics – miniature robot swarms for rover surface monitoring, 
  3. HexSense – a modular, ballistically deployed sensor node for Lunar surface monitoring, 
  4. Earth Mission Control – high-resolution data captures for virtual climate monitoring,  and 
  5. Papalotes Atmosféricos  – a set of wind interfaces that aim to explore kites and wind instruments as a form of low impact data collection instruments as well as performative fieldwork for environmental observation and non cartesian mapmaking. 

All five of the experiments participating in the expedition have application both in space and for Earth.  By testing these technologies in an environment that is representative of both Earth and the Moon we can learn about the ruggedness of the technologies, how they can be operated in remote locations, and the cultural impacts that these distinct environments have. For example, Earth Mission Control will use the same imaging techniques as the Lunar surface exploration research but will incorporate local island data into the platform as well as island climate impacts. Earth Mission Control is aimed at policy makers and the public alike providing them with tangible impacts of climate change and how decisions will impact those specific environments. Not only does this allow for the functional dissemination of data, but it provides local context to a global problem. Space exploration goes hand-in-hand with understanding our own planet and protecting the future of all of our worlds.

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